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G-A School District 'drops anchor' to evaluate COVID-19 reopening plan

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot
A survey of parents, students and staff is among the ways the Greencastle-Antrim School District is evaluating how well its COVID-19 reopening plan is working.

The Greencastle-Antrim community is divided on whether all high school students should return to in-person school four days a week, children go home from school happy most of the time and the kids don't like masks, but are good about wearing them.

Those are a few of the results of a survey of parents, students and staff members conducted in conjunction the Greencastle-Antrim School District's "drop anchor" day on Sept. 30. That date was set to look at what's working and what's not since schools reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic and to make changes as necessary.

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, presented an overview of "drop anchor" reflections and the results of the survey at the Oct. 1 school board meeting, which can be seen on YouTube by going to the school board tab on the district website:

gcasd.org

Survey participants included 1,479 parents and guardians, 1,557 students in third through 12th grades and 169 staff members.

The district's two targets for 2020-21 are to survive and thrive, Hanks said at the beginning of her presentation.

Surviving entails managing successfully through the pandemic and adapting and adjusting as needed. Thriving is maximizing the opportunities presented to focus on what matters most for students and to keep the focus on long-term outcomes.

One adjustment that will not be made until after the district "drops anchor" again Nov. 25 is the hybrid schedule at the high school. The district's COVID-19 pandemic school reopening health and safety plan has half the high-schoolers in school Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Students in the middle, elementary and primary schools attend in-person Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are online for everyone.

The survey included the statement "If we were to bring all students back to full capacity four days per week, just a few positive cases of COVID-19 could result in a full shut down of our buildings." Respondents were asked to consider this risk and answer whether they think it is too soon (more than 44% of parents, more than 52% of students and more than 56% of staff) or whether high schools students should return gradually (more the 55% of parents, more than 48% of students and more than 43% of staff).

"We are divided as a community," Hanks said.

There was more accord on how the students are feeling.

Ninety-six percent of parents and guardians said their children "usually" or "mostly" come home from school happy. More than 89% of students said they "usually" or "mostly" go home from school happy.

"If you work with adolescents, coming home 'usually happy" is a win," Hanks said.

Many of the students indicated they are glad to be back with their friends, but they overwhelmingly don't like wearing masks. Hanks said there will be more mask breaks to give them "time to spread out and breath."

Wednesdays, when all learning is virtual, are both a success and a challenge. Among the comments Hanks shared:

"I love the 4 days in school, 1 day virtual. It gives my kids a mid week break, allows them to sleep in, and it helps me get a better grasp on that they are learning/what they are struggling with."

Another parent wrote it is difficult "getting my child motivated on virtual Wednesdays and staying on task."

Wednesdays are a plus for teachers as they plan, grow and learn together and lean on each other to navigate the new learning environment.

Next steps are:

— Clear and consistent time expectations and workload for virtual learning.

— Revisit the plan for more formalized mask breaks and enforcement of proper mask use.

— Support parents for motivating children toward independent learning.

— Maintain the current schedule and plan.

— Begin to develop a "Come Back Plan" for high school.

— Target priority students and/or groups who might need extra help.

— Encourage families who are struggling to contact school counselors and/or administrators.

The goal, Hanks concluded her presentation, is "Thriving in a world of uncertainty. Together."